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Not so fast on that Covid money!

Rick McKinney , Senior Policy Analyst I am responding to two recent articles by Fred Swift, first one on March 18 and the second today , March 21, 2021, both related to Hamilton County receiving $65+ million in pandemic “relief” money from the Federal government. They are both misleading and inaccurate.

Defining the difference between WANTS and NEEDS was a cornerstone operating principle of my 24 years on the Hamilton County Council and it earned me the ire of the County Commissioners.

I have conferred with multiple members of both the Hamilton County Council and Auditors Office:

the $65+ million is indeed coming to the bank account of Hamilton County government but its use is highly restricted to replacing “lost revenue because of the pandemic”. It is not a blank check to be spent on proposed 146th Street improvements, the cost overruns on SR37 or other “want “ wish lists of government officials.

When I left the County Council at the end of 2020, the “revenue loss” Hamilton County had experienced from the pandemic was zero: the tourism agency was down about $2 million but quickly recovering into 2021 and County government was not expecting a decline in its property tax and income tax revenues until 2022 to 2023, if then. Given all the stimulus money and sustained economic activity Hamilton County saw as a whole in 2020, I doubt the losses will occur to the extent originally feared.

Unless the County can establish enough “lost revenue” to warrant keeping all the money, which is extremely unlikely, it will have to be returned by the end of 2024. Most likely, the County will be able to establish $8-12 million as “lost revenue".

Thankfully, the Auditors Office is independent and the bulwark against pressure from County Commissioners who have no hesitation spending money, especially that which is called “surplus” and “free”.

Lastly, the Hamilton County Council unanimously approved a $ 2million addition to the planned County parking garage which had a previous price tag of $9.5 million. I have previously stated my position that the County should not bear the cost by itself but instead the City of Noblesville should be responsible for the extra cost. The County does not need the extra space now nor will it need the spaces in the next 20 years for its employees or visitors. The greatest need for parking spaces was tied to the Health Department but it was moved to an auxiliary building on the east side of SR37 several years ago to alleviate the parking issue, which it did.

The County planned to allow downtown visitors to use the parking structure after 5pm to help downtown restaurants and businesses: perhaps the REAL reason for the sudden request and subsequent approval is the upcoming announcement by the City of Noblesville to eliminate all downtown parking around “the historic courthouse square “? In the hopes of revitalizing the area, the City will widen sidewalks and ban on the street parking. SO where will the cars go? Of course, the extra spaces the County plans to build.

Another free gift to a city, courtesy of the County Commissioners and a compliant County Council.

Rick McKinney is the past President of the HamCo County Council having served 24 years as an At Large councilor. He is the Senior Policy Analyst for the FCOHC having recently joined this group in January of 2021.

The Fiscal Conservatives of Hamilton County is an multi-partisan organization of Hamilton County, Indiana residents who are volunteers focused on fiscal policy and fiscal issues. It is free of outside control by any individual, organization or group. It exists to distribute opinions on issues affecting Hamilton County residents. Opinions expressed in signed articles do not necessarily represent the views of all members of the FCoHC or its board members.

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